Over the past 40 years, almost 90 percent living corals on Florida Keys reefs have been lost. Worldwide, the cover of tropical coral reefs has declined by 30% to 50% since the 1980s as climate change increases temperatures, sea levels and ocean acidity. The authors of a recent study predict catastrophic effects on coral reefs worldwide from a 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial levels.
We will miss these corals. These ecosystems cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, but they feed and support more than a quarter of all marine fish species, as well as many other marine animals.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), coral reefs directly support more than 500 million people, providing food, coastal protection and livelihoods from fishing and tourism. Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, reports that reefs that stretch some 350 miles from Dry Tortugas to St. Lucie Inlet contribute $8 billion to the state’s economy through tourism, fishing, and protection from severe storms. Mote scientists join experts around the world to try and restore these ecosystems. One of these projects, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s “Mission: Iconic Reefs”, aims to restore seven reefs, one of the largest such efforts in the world. the organizations the completion of in-water restoration work for the first phase of the project includes Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), Mote, and Reef Renewal.
Florida’s reefs also face a number of other threats, including disease outbreaks and storms, compounded by climate change. Indeed, coral reefs globally are one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth.
Melissa Gaskill is an Austin-based science writer who frequently covers climate change and ocean issues. Photos: Courtesy of Brandon Cole Marine Photography.